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Tillotson College

Austin, Texas



The Austin American-Statesman carried school news.  The Downs-Jones Library of Huston-Tillotson University has a pictorial history of Tillotson College online.  Internet Archive has the 1883-84 catalog.  The ad (right) is from the Dallas Express.

Tillotson Ad_edited.jpg


Tillotson Collegiate and Normal Institute was founded by the American Missionary Society of the Congregational Church with a three-fold purpose:  to provide “a thorough and practical common school education for black students;” to prepare students for entrance into higher education; and to train teachers for all positions in the public schools.    It was named for George J. Tillotson, who provided funds for the land and building.  Chartered in 1877, it opened January 17, 1881, with 177 students—160 of whom were enrolled in grades 1-5.    

Enrollment reached 287 in 1910, but fell to 215 in 1927.  By 1938 it had rebounded to 400. 


The catalog notes a Tillotson Rhetorical Society formed to train students for public speaking.  Commencement programs provided opportunities for those students to demonstrate skills in oratory and declamation.  And while the catalog merely states that “facilities for instruction in both vocal and instrumental music are adequate,” singing is listed as part of the curriculum at every grade level, and later performances by musical groups from Tillotson College became part of the entertainment at social events around Austin.


Between 1915 and 1935 Tillotson reevaluated its role and scope.  Collegiate courses increased to the point that the 1919 ad (above)shows a name change to Tillotson College and a curriculum leading to a B.A. degree.  By 1921 the B.A. was dropped in favor of a focus on teacher training.   By 1926 Tillotson was a state accredited junior college, allowing graduates to receive immediate teaching certificates.   By 1927 it had become a women’s college, with a return to four year status in 1929.  After gaining S.A.C.S. accreditation in 1933, it again became coeducational in 1935.   


In 1928 Tillotson College became a health education center.  When Estelle Reeves was appointed the first Black health officer in Austin, the college set aside three rooms for her to teach classes in home care for the sick.


In 1952 Tillotson merged with Samuel Huston College, a Methodist school with a similar history and focus.  Today Huston- Tillotson University has an enrollment of 1,160 graduate and undergraduate students.

Allen Hall_edited.jpg

Hill, S. B. [Allen Hall, Tillotson Institute], photograph, [1880..1901]; ( accessed April 9, 2022), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

Bricks and Mortar

Tillotson College was located on 19.8 acres on Bluebonnet Hill in East Austin.  The first building was a five-story brick structure named Allen Hall.  It contained dormitory rooms for both male and female students, in addition to a 300-seat chapel, parlors, a dining hall, a library, and recitation rooms.  The basement was used for social events.  In 1894 a new girls’ dormitory named Beard Hall was added.  This was a smaller Romanesque structure with a dormer roof.   Both building survived the merger but were razed before the twenty-first century.


The oldest extant buildings are Evans Industrial Hall, added in 1911, and the Administration Building, added in 1914.  These were built with student help, greatly reducing costs.  These buildings are part of the Huston-Tillotson University Historic District.  


            Team name: Eagles (or Golden Eagles)

            School Colors: Since the emblem was the bluebonnet, colors were probably Blue and



In 1908 the American-Statesman reported that a baseball team from Tillotson Institute had lost a doubleheader to Samuel Huston College. 


After Tillotson College again became coeducational, it fielded a football team for the first time in 1936, playing Blackshear High School, Mary Allen College and Paul Quinn College.  In 1938 Tillotson “clamored for admission" to the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but were not admitted, despite a 7-1 record in 1940.   Eagle teams defeated Paul Quinn nine of ten times, were winless in eight tries against Prairie View,  split eight games against Philander Smith (AR), and dropped four of six games to Samuel Huston and four of five to Texas Southern.


Without a gymnasium The Eagles played basketball beginning in 1936.  They fielded both men’s and women’s teams.  Opponents for both teams included high school and independent team.  In 1949 Tillotson played against the Harlem Globetrotters.


Tillotson basketball_edited.jpg

1934 Tillotson College Women's Basketball Team.  Curtesy: Huston-Tillotson University Archives, Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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